World Series by Renault — the feeder series to watch

There is a surfeit of motor racing championships that aim to usher in the next generation of Formula 1 stars. But only a few are worth paying serious attention to.

GP2 — the ‘official’ way to progress to F1

The most well-known by a long way is GP2. Backed by Bernie Ecclestone, GP2 is the closest thing there is to an ‘official’ feeder series to the pinnacle of motorsport.

Since its inception in 2005, GP2 has been a stepping stone for some of F1’s biggest names. With a solid F1-style car and a unique status as the support race to almost every European grand prix (thereby giving drivers vital experience at many F1 circuits), there is no doubt that GP2 is a strong category.

The main alternative: World Series by Renault

World Series by Renault logo

But beyond the ‘official’ routes to F1, World Series by Renault (sometimes known as Formula Renault 3.5) has established itself as a series to take seriously.

No fewer than 18 F1 drivers have raced in World Series by Renault or one of its earlier incarnations. Among them are Robert Kubica, Heikki Kovalainen and Kamui Kobayashi. In 1999, World Champion Fernando Alonso also won what was then the Euro Open by Nissan series.

Most impressively, in 2007 Sebastian Vettel was leading the championship when he became an F1 driver mid-season. We all know how that story ends.

Strong drivers in World Series by Renault

This year’s World Series by Renault field has some very strong drivers in the field. Two of the favourites for the championship, Daniel Ricciardo and Robert Wickens, are currently already F1 test drivers, for Toro Rosso and Virgin respectively. These drivers are so hotly tipped that both have been rumoured to become race drivers before this season is even finished. I will certainly eat my hat if they are not racing in F1 in 2012.

The pair put on a wet weather masterclass in Race 1 at the Nürburgring two weekends ago. In changeable conditions, they had the measure of the rest of the field while engaging in a tense battle for the lead.

The talent doesn’t end there. Other current F1 test drivers participating in World Series by Renault include Fairuz Fauzy and Jan Charouz (both for Renault F1).

Meanwhile, Jean-Eric Vergne is next in the queue behind Daniel Ricciardo in the Red Bull Young Driver sausage factory, and rightly so. His performances at Spa-Francorchamps were at times jaw-dropping.

Young Estonian Kevin Korjus (Race 2 winner at the Nürburgring) has also turned heads in his rookie World Series by Renault season.

Scrappy driving in GP2

When you compare it with this year’s GP2 field, the ‘official’ feeder series seems to lack that edge slightly. No driver has managed to take full control of the championship — nor has anyone shown signs that they deserve to.

Romain Grosjean has come the closest. But you could argue that he ought to be. He is highly experienced compared to most of his competitors, and even has some F1 races under his belt. He is this year’s Giorgio Pantano. He has been involved in some questionable incidents. He managed to crash into his teammate at Barcelona. As if that wasn’t bad enough, he then climbed all over him as part of the truly farcical scenes in the qualifying session at Monaco.

Meanwhile, the hotly-tipped Jules Bianchi (who is a Ferrari test driver) has been surprisingly clumsy, lurching from needless crash to avoidable gaffe. After a promising (albiet curtailed) GP2 Asia campaign last winter, Bianchi currently languishes in 15th in the championship, having managed to score points in just two of the eight races so far.

Giedo van der Garde has arguably been the most consistent, but still manages to make needless errors. In Valencia, he was penalised for overtaking under yellow flags.

Beyond this, it is difficult to see where the F1 stars of the future are in this year’s GP2 field.

A good alternative for both viewers and drivers

Moreover, the World Series by Renault season has been more action-packed for my money. This season’s calendar visits seven current Formula 1 venues, including some of the best circuits in the world. Spa, Monza, Silverstone and even Monaco all have slots in World Series by Renault. The calendar is refreshingly light on Tilke designs.

The Formula Renault 3.5 cars themselves are impressive, providing an ideal bridge between the well-established Formula Renault 2.0 cars. They typically run just a few seconds a lap slower than GP2 cars.

From next season, the car will step up a gear with a more powerful engine and greater downforce. But most eye-catching is the introduction DRS-style moveable aerodynamics. It could well be that the new Formula Renault 3.5 cars will prepare drivers for F1 better than a GP2 car can.

The combination of superb F1-style cars, excellent circuits and promising drivers is creating great entertainment. For me, it is the feeder series to watch.


  1. Good to see a lengthy blog championing Formula Renault 3.5. I was lucky enough to do some stewarding at the 2010 Silverstone round of World Series by Renault and on the whole really enjoyed the racing; I was at Luffield and there were some good overtaking manoeuvres at the end of the Wellington Straight. Kevin Korjus was there wrapping up the F.Renault Eurocup 2.0 championship and, looking at the race results this season, he’s made a commendably smooth transition up to the 3.5s.

    It’s true that the series attracts some very promising young drivers and has proved to be a useful springboard to F1 for many of the current crop. It’s also interesting to note that Red Bull seem particularly keen to put their drivers (Vettel, Algersuari, Ricciardo, Vergne to name but a few)through FR3.5 rather than GP2 – an implicit corroboration with your assessment of the relative strengths of the two junior formulae?

    Also didn’t know that they’re planning DRS-style movable rear wings for the series next year. The F1 community seem to still have an open mind on DRS so if they decide to drop it at the end of this year then that could be a bit problematic for FR3.5; as things stand it looks here to stay though so GP2 (and maybe even the slower GP3 cars) may have to implement something similar to show that it (they) too can continue to sufficiently prepare young drivers for F1.

  2. Thanks for the comment Rishi! I think you are absolutely right that Formula Renault 3.5 is becoming a much better car to prepare young drivers. Renault clearly put a lot of effort into the series and I sometimes get the feeling that GP2 as a series just rests on its laurels and dines out on its status as the F1 support race.

  3. Thanks for this. I know this comment is a bit behind from when this was published, but I adore World Series by Renault and FR3.5; I actually prefer it more to Formula One sometimes and it is so much better than GP2. To be honest, I think because it’s one of Bernie’s creations, GP2 gets a lot of good press and attention, which it doesn’t really deserve, but if you look at it, Formula Renault 3.5 is much better.

    Also can I point out Red Bull Racing/Scuderia Toro Rosso have said they will no longer take drivers from any feeder series other than FR3.5, and who can blame them? Their none-FR3.5 drivers have been pretty dismal – Buemi and Bordais, for example, whereas their FR3.5 drivers are all considered to be among the best – Vettel, Alguersuari and Ricciardo, for example.
    I also think it’s very interesting that FR3.5 are introducing moveable aerodynamics – the cars are already equipt with 3.5 litre engines (F1 cars only have 2.4l), so could this see FR3.5 overtake GP2 and start to catch F1 in terms of speed? Having moveable aerodynamics would assume they plan to have more complex aero designs so the moveable aero becomes more significan, so I wouldn’t be suprised if FR3.5 becomes very fast and very popular in the next few years!

  4. Thanks for the comment Lau. I totally agree, although I think Buemi is a bit better than you indicate (I’m certainly not sure Alguersuari is so far ahead of him). But there is no doubt in my mind that the quality of drivers that come out of Formula Renault 3.5 is consistently exceptional, whereas GP2 has had a few stars here and there, but a lot of duds too.